NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei confirmed on Tuesday, September 14, via a tweet that he will be staying in the International Space Station until March 2022 for an approximately 353-day mission. This gives him a recording-breaking spaceflight after NASA astronaut Scott Kelly who stayed on the space station for 340 days.
Vande Hei said in a video clip that the mission extension excites him as an astronaut who is an explorer at heart. He added that he is looking forward to understanding how humans could stay in space for almost a year.
Longest Spaceflight for an American
Space.com reported that the announcement of the mission extension comes three weeks after the delayed spacewalk due to a medical issue. It was later revealed that the delay was because of the pinched nerve in the neck of Vande Hei, who was supposed to join the spacewalk at that time.
The spacewalk resumed, but Vande Hei was replaced by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide. Vande Hei supported the crew on the spacewalk from inside the ISS.
Vande Hei explains in the video that he sees the mission extension as a way for scientists to understand how the body can withstand long spaceflights, which is crucial for future space missions that involve visiting deep-space destinations, such as Mars.
According to NASA, astronauts typically would only stay for about six and a half months in space, but a roundtrip to the Red Planet would likely take two years. The space agency's Administrator Bill Nelson wrote a congratulatory tweet to Vande Hei for his extended mission, thanking him for his dedication and research that will prepare Artemis missions to the Moon and Mars.
Filming the First Movie in Space
Vande Hei said that the mission extension was no surprise that he even knew about it before his last-minute launch in April. His family has also prepared for this as it is something they have been expecting. He noted that he meditated every day and talked to his family to manage the effects of isolation that come with long-duration spaceflight.
According to Space News, Russian cosmonaut Pyotr Dubrov will stay another six months on the space station like Vande Hei. The two of them and Oleg Novitsky were launched to the ISS via Soyuz MS-18 on April 9 and would have returned together this October after the replacement crew aboard the Soyuz MS-19 arrived.
But things have changed, which now extends their mission aboard the space station. The mission extension is possible because Roscosmos is sending director Klim Shipenko and actress Yulia Pereslid to the ISS and cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov to the space station.
They will spend approximately two weeks filming scenes for a movie before returning to Earth with Novitsky on board the MS-18. Shkaplerov will remain on the ISS for six months along with Vande Hei and Dubrov and return to Earth on March 2022.
Although there is no exact date yet of their return, Vande Hei expected his mission to last for 353 days in space, a record-breaking feat for an American astronaut.
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